Criteria A: Plan of Investigation
This investigation asks the question "How did photography shape public reactions to the American Civil War?” The investigation will take into account the leading photographers’ works of the time, such as Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner, and how the public responded to the images that were shared and what value the images had. It will assess the public reaction by looking at press publications similar to those of The New York Times and Harper's Weekly. Publications such as these evaluated the galleries of the artists what they provided for the viewers. The value of the photographs to today's historians is also taken into account.
Criteria B: Summary of Evidence
During the Civil War, many Americans wanted more than written descriptions of the epic battle in eastern Pennsylvania. They craved visual records- photographs of the fields where so many brave men, northerners and southerners alike, had fallen (Nardo 4). The press thrilled readers with its written descriptions of the exploits of these larger-than-life characters. But the average person knew little of a personal nature about them, including what they looked like (Nardo 45). [The photographs] provided a way for the people to see such living legends up close, to look them in the eye, so to speak, and get a glimpse of their humanity (Nardo 45).
Though the photographers would often stage their photographs, they are still witness to real events (Trachtenberg 73). What the photograph depicted originated, as everyone understood, in the world itself, not in the imagination-even if objects must be moved to realize the photographer’s intention (Trachtenberg 83). It defined and perhaps even helped unify the nation through an unrehearsed and unscripted act of collective memory-making (Rosenheim 1). We see the war not as heroic action in a grand style but as rotting corpses, shattered trees and rocks. Weary soldiers in mud-covered uniforms or lying wounded in field hospitals-as boredom and pain... The reality they depict is the reality of violence, the effect of shells and bullets on human flesh and bone... The photographs did bring home the reality of the whole event, but in the case of war the normal gap between sense experience and mental comprehension is stretched to an extreme (Trachtenberg 74).
In the Atlantic Monthly in January of 1863, Holmes wrote "let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustration. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday... The site of these pictures is a commentary on civilization such as the savage might well triumph to show its missionaries." (Taft 236). Photographs have the power to take the viewer back to another time in history. By looking at photographs from the Civil War, we can see the actual faces and places involved in this important moment in history (Stille 43). E. F. Bleiler spoke on Alexander Gardner's Photographic...